Visitors to Wilson’s Orchard and Farm can now visit for eight months out of the year instead of three as the apple orchard opens for its first-ever summer season, complete with its first-ever strawberry patch for locals to pick the fruit from.
The orchard’s calendar previously ran from August to October. Owner Paul Rasch said it recently planted fruits including blackberries and cherries so that it can now remain open from June to November. The orchard reopened for the summer on June 20.
The orchard’s first weekend after reopening was ripe for picking strawberries because it was the perfect time for their harvest, Rasch said.
“Our strawberries are fully ripe, so they are just loaded with flavors,” he said.
There’s a clear difference in taste to the strawberries picked locally at somewhere like Wilson’s, Rasch added, and strawberries that are shipped to stores from some place thousands of miles away.
In an effort to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the novel coronavirus spikes in Johnson County, Wilson’s Orchard is offering outdoor activities and placing two rows of space between customers for social-distancing purposes.
“Each row is about six feet apart, so they will be 10 to 12 feet apart by assigning them [to] every other row,” Rasch said.
Due to a freezing night in May, Wilson’s Orchard Manager Kyle Tester said the strawberry season will end earlier than expected.
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The farm would ideally have had frost precautions like plant covers for extremely cold nights or freezing water to release heat that prevents frosting, Tester said.
Because this is the orchard’s first year harvesting strawberries, it did not prepare with the proper equipment for use in advance, Tester said. Some strawberry flowers were frostbitten on the night of May 9.
“It was a very, very, very late [frost],” Tester said.
Wilson’s Orchard focuses on the local production of vegetables and fruits and sells its products in cooperation with almost all local supermarkets, Rasch said. A citywide delivery service has been implemented in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and will soon expand to Cedar Rapids.
A pick-up service is also available at the market and restaurant within Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, Rasch added.
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“I think they’re going to stop delivery to stores and just want to make sure that their berries are growing the best they can,” said Curt West, assistant produce manager at Hy-Vee on First Avenue in Iowa City.
Because strawberries need to be picked when they are ripe, Rasch said the COVID-19 pandemic makes it difficult to predict the flow of consumers.
“If consumers don’t come to pick them then we’ll have to pick them,” Rasch said. “It’s difficult to plan how many we have to pick.”